Review by Siobhán Rich for Mr. Will Wong
This time of year, some people look forward to football games or shopping but animation addicts anticipate something entirely different: a new Movie from Disney. This year Pixar stepped-up to provide fans with an original story about Día de los Muertos and the trouble one little boy can get up to in a world populated by the dead. Named for the world’s most adorable great-grandmother, Coco features a star-studded cast of skeletons, sholo dogs, spirit animals, and a plucky boy with a guitar who won’t deny who is he meant to be.
Miguel is the rebellious son of the “only family in Mexico who hates music.” Naturally, Miguel longs to become a musician and has even taught himself to play guitar by watching old movies starring his hero, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to play in the town’s talent show, Miguel decides to borrow de la Cruz’s guitar on Día de los Muertos and finds himself in the Land of the Dead. With time running out to return to the Land of the Living, Miguel enlists the help of Héctor – a down on his luck skeleton who wants to visit the Land of the Living so he can see his daughter one last time. Together the two set out to find the one relative Miguel believes will send him home and still allow him to play music – his great-great-grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz.
The true hero of Coco is Gael García Bernal’s Héctor who brings life to his animated skeleton. A man willing to dress-up as Frida Kahlo in an attempt to sneak across the veil on Día de los Muertos, Héctor’s motives often seem clouded behind the sad story he refuses to share with Miguel. In addition to giving the audience someone to cheer for, Bernal’s singing voice brings life to otherwise forgettable songs.
The respect Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina have for Mexican culture found throughout the Movie extended to the phenomenal voice cast. Pixar surrounded newcomer Anthony Gonzalez’s Miguel with a who’s who of costars including Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz, Renee Victor, Jamie Camil, Gabriel Iglesias, Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, and of course Pixar mainstay John Ratzenberger. One of the reasons the movie works so well is the sincerity of their performances as they bring this story about Mexican culture alive.
Pixar chose to imbue Coco with music that helped support the setting. Both the original songs and Michael Giacchino’s Score evoke the feeling of Mexico. Despite tbe work that clearly went into creating an audio landscape to match the visual one, the original songs fall flat. The Movie’s big song, Remember Me, is unmemorable but that is more than made-up for with the traditional song, La Llorona which plays near the end of the movie.
The Movie truly comes alive when Miguel arrives in the Land of the Dead. The complex city where the dead live is a beautiful metropolis of colour and eye-popping, neon alebrije flying around buildings and trolleys. The detail work in the Land of the Dead doesn’t stop at the vibrant backgrounds but extends to its large skeleton population who move joyfully around their city making the most out of their death.
Preceding Coco is the now traditional Disney Animated Short. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is Disney’s surefire recipe to keeping the Frozen Franchise around forever. Featuring new songs kids will have memorized within minutes, the short is about Olaf’s quest to find new holiday traditions for his best friends, Anna and Elsa. With a strong focus on both traditional families and the family you make, the 21-minute Short is a strong opening to Pixar’s Coco.
Disney•Pixar’s Coco honours Día de los Muertos as a celebration of joy and remembrance bringing the joy of Mexican culture to millions of people. Skip the long lines of shoppers this weekend and head to the theatre share a story about a lovable street dog, an adorable kid, and the importance of family.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada release COCO on Wednesday, November 22, 2017.